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Young people dancing and having fun in the Tramline nightclubs in Dublin, the day before the Government's introduction of new Covid-19 restrictions this week.

Opinion Young people have sacrificed more than any other group, it's time this was recognised

Adam Hallissey argues that young people have paid the heaviest price in the pandemic.

LAST UPDATE | 9 Dec 2021

IF YOU HAVE the misfortune of being unable to avoid spending your evenings scrolling through posts on social media platforms, you will have noticed that Covid-19-related discussions continue to dominate the daily discourse.

Each day, different groups – those deeply upset with restrictions, those who wish to see more restrictions introduced and others – take the time to discuss any new statistics, policies or Covid-related stories.

At times, interactions can get testy which, taking into account the important nature of the topics of debate, is understandable.

Who is to blame?

What is less understandable, however, is the constant urge harboured by too many to blame some other group or individual for the hardship faced over the past two years.

Varying selections have become the frustrated online audience’s useful scapegoat for society’s Covid woes – the simplistic, unedifying reason for why things have been so challenging is this particular source caused by this particular group. Irish small and medium-sized businesses ranging from pubs and gyms to hairdressers have been common choices to vent on.

The truth, of course, is that pandemics and the social, economic and public health factors surrounding them are highly complex and to try to singularise fault is inane. The naming of Covid variants after geographical areas – the Indian variant, the South African variant – also arguably helped facilitate this practice of ‘othering’.

But perhaps no other group has been as frequently and strongly favoured as the topical victim for the online mob than young adults. Some recent posts online suggested some young people might only be against lockdown simply because they couldn’t go out and get wasted. As the reintroduction of restrictions has emerged once again, the message to young people from many seems to quite simply be: get over yourselves.

All our fault?

The reasoning for this point of view appears logical. Covid-19 represents a unique and deadly threat that disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable in society. If all you are being asked to do is to give up your late nights in pubs and nightclubs, ability to travel, ability to congregate in large groups and to work and study at home, then to complain does seem selfish when the lives of others are at stake.

There are actually two faults inherent in this argument. The first is that playing down that which has been foregone by young people during this pandemic as just missing out on “the shift” and an “afters” will have consequences that will last far longer than the coronavirus pandemic. The second is that it ignores that while we all have made sacrifices, young people’s sacrifices have involved the greatest willingness to act in the interests of others, not ourselves.

What is misunderstood by many of those commenting on the lives of young people in Ireland during Covid-19, most of whom have long surrendered their claim to understanding the trials and tribulations of being young, is that what young adults have sacrificed during this pandemic, not unlike other sections of society, is far from trivial.

Young people have sacrificed our youth. We have sacrificed, to varying degrees during different time periods, all that it means to be young. Feeling fatigued by it all, constantly experiencing thoughts of what we missed out on during such pivotal years, is not something to be criticised.

Like many others, I will never forget the heartbreaking confessions posted anonymously by college students across the country on social media admitting the loneliness they were feeling, the sadness of having no opportunities to make friends over the past few years and the overwhelming impact it was having on their mental health.

Some had decided that to emigrate was the best choice for their future. As a nation, we have for a long time identified a young person’s college years as something to be cherished, a rite of passage that has been ripped away for so many and it remains unsure as to when normal college life will permanently return.

Social isolation has an impact

Studies have predicted that the consequences of the removal of social opportunity for young people, particularly those ranging from 18 to 25 years old, will be shocking as they become clearer. In fact, loneliness has previously been found to be as much of a health risk as smoking or obesity. Pandemic-inflicted lockdowns were even more difficult for children and adolescents with disabilities.

Growing up, you dream of the days when you will finally be unshackled by the confinements that stop you from adventuring into town and college as you please, as well as travelling abroad and making friends and memories you will never forget. You want to experience enough in a relatively short period of time so that you will still have an abundance of semi-entertaining stories to reminisce about as you grow older.

Meeting new people, experiencing new places, finding out more about yourself and who you plan on becoming – this encapsulates all of what your youth is meant to be about. Young people have participated in lockdowns and vaccine willingness like all other age groups. We did it for the vulnerable because we understood that when those we care about suffer, we all suffer.

But, how dare we appreciate a return to normality and be disappointed when it is, once again, quickly snatched away? That has been one of the worst aspects of all of this as a 21-year-old. Not knowing when normality or a reasonable semblance of it is here to stay for a proper amount of time.

This is all despite the fact that young people have far less of a chance of experiencing serious health ramifications when we do contract Covid-19. The entire age category of 25 to 44-year-olds, for example, represents only 17% of Covid-related hospitalisations, less than those of the 85 years and older category by itself. Those aged 15 to 34 years old account for 13%.

A generation facing challenges

A large number of people in their 20s and 30s already feel isolated from the rest of society and have done so for some time. Today’s millennials will be the first group in the history of the State that will fail to reach the standards of living compared to the generation before us. The difficulties faced by those just entering the property market are well-documented. The average age of our TDs is 49 years old and young people’s level of engagement with traditional political structures, though improving, remains uneasy.

It is not unreasonable to worry that if the sacrifices made by young adults throughout this ordeal are trivialised as being discretionary and are taken for granted, this will only serve to further alienate younger generations for years to come, worsening an age divide which already exists.

Far too many will feel sufficiently isolated and lacking in opportunity that they will think they have nothing to lose in emigrating. Others will turn to an extreme sort of politics that offers an alternative to those who took young people’s commitment to mainstream political, economic and social structures for granted.

Discussions with young adults surrounding Covid-19 have, thus far, too often been accompanied by a wagging finger rather than a helping hand and understanding tone – something that has to change if we are to look back at this time period as a time when we battled a deadly disease together and did not scorn our young people for the audacity of wanting to enjoy what it means to be young.

Adam Hallissey is a 21-year-old Law and Business student at University College Cork and the former Founder and Editor-in-Chief at The Progressive Brief.

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